Commentary: Stop putting Phelps, Westboro church in spotlight

The Kansas City StarMarch 4, 2011 

We’re suckers, all of us who are provoked to speak out or take action against Fred Phelps and his hateful message.

Phelps family spokeswoman Shirley Phelps-Roper said as much on a talk radio show before Wednesday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision affirming her family’s constitutional right to act like jerks at military funerals.

Last week, someone disabled several websites belonging to the Phelps family’s Topeka-based Westboro Baptist Church. But instead of getting angry, Phelps-Roper mocked the hackers.

“Listen up, ladies,” she said on the David Pakman Show. “This is what you’ve accomplished. You have caused all the eyes all over the world to look. All we’re doing is publishing a message.

“What you did was cause yet another huge global explosion of the word of God.”

Yep, we’re all being played for suckers, from the Supreme Court on down. Every one who speaks out against the hatred the Phelps family spews. The legislators who pass laws aimed at limiting funeral protests. The attorneys general who defend those laws when challenged in court.

The grieving families who seek legal damages for the harm those protests cause. The news media who cover the controversy.

Even the motorcyclists who shield the families of dead soldiers from seeing the hurtful signs. We’re all being played.

Most hate groups are easily ignored. The Phelpses, on the other hand, are expert at attracting attention. They understand human nature. They know that, in the same way we automatically stomp on a cockroach skittering across the floor, we are quick to react to evil spewed by vermin of their sort.

Back in the 1990s, the Kansas City media got tired of being played. We quit covering Westboro Baptist picketing at the memorial services of gay people.

So Phelps devised more outrageous ways to get noticed beyond his home turf. Hence the protests at military funerals.

He knew the tactic would incite emotional responses. That people would decry the shamefulness of the protests. Pass laws to stop them. File lawsuits in hope of crippling the protesters financially.

All the while, the Phelps family of lawyers laughed. They knew their rights under the Constitution. They knew they’d probably win this Supreme Court case, and they’re confident they’ll overturn some laws setting limits on where and how they can protest.

I bet they will, yet even when they lose, they win by staying in the news.

It’s too late now, I suppose. But what if we followed the lead of sportscasters who refuse to televise the fools who run onto the field during baseball games?

Pretending the Phelpses don’t exist wouldn’t make it so. But denying them the attention they crave most of all would be delicious.

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